Some of my favorite memories are October memories. I remember Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin (which we still watch every year), dressing up like Batman to beg the neighbors for candy and jumping into big piles of leaves. Caramel apples, kettle corn and hot chocolate on frosty mornings take me back to the kind of childhood that seems to have disappeared from large parts of America.
October also marked the beginning of hunting season. I remember the first “real” hunting trip with my dad. The stiff canvas backing of my brand new hunting jacket was a little uncomfortable to wear in the truck as we crossed the mountain, but there was no way I was going to take it off. The single shot Harrington and Richardson 20 gauge shotgun from the last Christmas was a powerful and mysterious object to be treated with the utmost caution bordering on reverence.
We always laughed at Barney Fife’s antics with his one-bullet pistol, but there was no joking around when it came to firearms in our house. I still remember the very first lessons, which began with the first BB gun when I was about 8 and continued with the first shotgun when I was 13. Always treat a gun like it’s loaded. When you are carrying a gun around people, pretend like the barrel is 20 feet long, and that will make sure that the end of that barrel never crosses anyone’s path.
Like many boys who grew up in the country, by the time I enlisted in the Marines, carrying a rifle was second nature. Rifle training came easy, and I scored high enough on the rifle range to be series high shooter. I will be forever grateful that I never had to use those skills in battle.
Times have changed. The reverence for firearms we had as kids is hard to find now, and after 16 years of continuous warfare, there are too many young men who have seen battle.
I haven’t hunted in years, but not because I think it’s wrong. I’m more interested now in how the animals live than in how they taste, but it amuses me when people condemn hunting but have no qualms about buying a steak at the market. I believe that everyone who eats meat should have to, at least once, obtain it from scratch. If that were so, I think there would be a lot more vegetarians, and the world wouldn’t be so busy exchanging rainforest for fast food hamburgers.
We have argued about gun control in this country for years, and that argument escalates every time there is a tragedy involving firearms. Like so many of our arguments, we only seem to hear from the loudest voices with the most extreme opinions: Those who want to eliminate guns completely versus those who want to arm passengers on airplanes.
Here on the middle path between those extremes, there are many of us who believe in the importance of the Second Amendment, but we’re not averse to some mechanism for preventing crazy people, people who are over-medicated, and stupid people, from owning firearms. We want to protect our homes and families from criminal elements. We also want to protect them from the coercive tyranny of too much government, but we realize that an assault rifle is a ridiculous means of doing that. Protection from government comes from education and active participation in our civil society.
Gun violence in America is a problem, but it is a failure, not of our laws, but of our culture. In some of our inner cities it is an economic indicator and a sign of desperation. Gun violence is difficult to discuss in a culture that is overly dependent on images, when so many of the images of our daily lives are violent.
There is not enough room in this newspaper column to show you those images, but you’e seen them all your life, and if you’ve read this far, you’re probably one of the shrinking minority who can still form clear images from words. So here is our verbal slide show for the week. The theme is a culture saturated by violent images that are sold as entertainment.
We’ll start with Rambo. You’ve seen the image a thousand times: Bare chested, teeth clenched in righteous indignation and firing a 50 caliber machine gun, one armed. We glorify the wounded warrior taking down the evil bad guys. Click next. A scantily clad heroine holds a machine pistol in each hand. Hollywood has made gun violence sexy.
Next image. A hip hop star holds a Mac-9. He is decorated with gold and diamonds. Gun violence is hip. Next image. The steely eyed detective points a pistol at the perps. Oh, you just saw that? Where? On Netflix? A pop-up ad on the computer?
Movie trailers, teasers and commercials are full of images of people shooting or about to shoot each other. Search “action-adventure” and count the weapons. Turn on the television morning, noon and night for the latest shooting.
Corporate media (we sometimes say “Hollywood” as a short-cut for the entertainment industry), either in giving us what we want, or enticing us by manipulating our baser instincts, has saturated our culture with violence. How ironic that many of the same actors and actresses holding the weapons on screen are so quick to condemn. How ironic that many of the same politicians seeking to disarm Americans have no problem selling arms to other countries.